Stampede Rodeo Pioneers: Wilson, Klassen & Gooch Enter Hall of Fame

Editor's Note from Terry Middleditch...

A very hearty congratulations to my good friend and founding Rational Dream Team Member & Believer.....Monica Wilson....a true trailblazer and a worthy recipient of the Calgary Stampede's Hall of Fame Pioneer of Rodeo Award.

The good news was shared this evening in this story from the Calgary Herald

VALERIE FORTNEY, CALGARY HERALD

“It’s a man’s world.”

When Monica Wilson makes this observation about the macho world of rodeo and chuckwagon racing, she knows she’s not revealing any protected secrets of the trade.

Yet back when she first faced that reality, she did something about it.

 

 

In 1996, Wilson played an instrumental role in barrel racers winning the right to vote as members of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, receiving formal recognition of the sport as a major rodeo event and receiving equal prize money in the biggest bonus round on the Canadian pro circuit.

“I must have written hundreds of letters, to newspapers, to politicians,” the now 62-year-old champion tells me Monday morning. “It was a long road back then, just even trying to get recognized.”

Over the years, the gracious but determined cowgirl has received some big time recognition of her own.

In 1996, Wilson received the Calgary Stampede’s Guy Weadick Award — the first woman since the organization began in 1969 to bestow the honour on a chuckwagon or rodeo competitor who, as the Calgary Stampede’s website puts it, best embodies “what the cowboy stands for and who best typifies the spirit of the Calgary Stampede.”

In 1999, she won the Cowboy of the Year award from the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, again the first woman in that organization’s then 30-year history to win.

On Monday, Wilson’s back in the spotlight, as one of three recipients of the Pioneers of Rodeo award. “It’s the Stampede’s rodeo and chuckwagon hall of fame,” explains Graham Moon of the Stampede Chuckwagon committee of the 31-year tradition.

So that is how a room full of legendary cowboys and cowgirls of both today and yesteryear has come to gather at the Stampede grounds, in the Rotary House’s big log cabin.

At the head table, Wilson is seated to the left of Lawrence Gooch, son of the late Bob Gooch. Back in the 1950s, Bob Gooch was part of what would become a chuckwagon dynasty. That was when driver Hank Willard, with Gooch as one of his outriders, won the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby five years in a row.

A year after that five-year winning streak, Gooch — who died in 1990 at age 64 — was an outrider for the next champion, Lloyd Nelson. In 2015, Gooch’s record of outriding for six consecutive Stampede Rangeland Derby championships still stands.

Before going up to receive the belt buckle given to the inductees, Lawrence Gooch can barely contain his emotion. “He’s probably rolling in his grave,” he says with a mix of laughter and tears. “This would have meant the world to my dad.”

Joining them at the recipient table, Art Klassen also admits to feeling overwhelmed at being chosen as one of the Pioneers of Rodeo. “It’s really the highest honour,” he says. “I never expected to be sitting here.”

Many in the rodeo and chuckwagon world would disagree. Over the past half-century, Klassen has provided the sport some of its best bucking horses as a stock supplier.

Through his company Big Stone Rodeo Co., Klassen, now 87 years old, and his business partner Bruce Sunstrum, also staged rodeos all across North America.

For this first-time guest at the invite-only ceremony, it’s an exciting experience to be among so many legends.

My tablemates on this day include Tom Bews, one of the world’s best saddle bronc riders during his heyday in the 1960s, accompanied by his wife Rosemarie, daughter of the late, great cowboy legend Herman Linder, who regale me with tales of instructing the likes of Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood on the finer points of horsemanship, along with childhood memories of Stampede founder Guy Weadick; and Malcolm Jones, a fellow bronc rider who, like Tom Bews, has been honoured as a Pioneer of Rodeo in years past.

Monica Wilson agrees that being in a room filled with such rodeo and chuckwagon luminaries is a thrill. Still, it doesn’t stop her from wearing the activist hat she’s become so famous for.

Moncia Wilson


“There’s been no one else since me,” she says of being the first — and still only — woman to win both the Cowboy of the Year award and the Guy Weadick award.

“But things are getting better and I’m pretty thankful to be a pioneer,” she says, adding with a chuckle, “even if that makes me sound a little too old.”

vfortney@calgaryherald.com

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